Peru. The Sacred Land of the Incas. From modern-day Cusco to the ruins of Machu Picchu to the rushing rivers of the Sacred Valley, Peru is a wonderland for the active traveler. Chock-full of extraordinary scenery, limitless adventure, and a welcoming, colorful culture, few destinations offer more story and memory-making opportunities than Peru.
On this adrenaline-pumping BACK&PACK trip, you’ll join other like-minded travelers to trek the jaw-dropping Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, whitewater raft the Rio Urubamba, paddleboard the high-altitude lake of Piuray, mountain bike the Sacred Valley, explore the UNESCO sites of Cusco, contribute to meaningful humanitarian projects, and much more.
At 11,152 feet in elevation, the beauty of Cusco isn’t the only thing that may take your breath away! At the beginning of our trip, we’ll take it a bit easy while adjusting to the new altitude. To truly understand Peru, you must first get to know its local people and their life challenges. Thus, we’ll use this time to dig below the surface and volunteer with our friends at the Center for Adolescent Mothers, Casa Mantay, and the Orphanage of Santa Teresa. We’ll spend our afternoons and evenings exploring more of the city and surrounding areas, including the Incan citadel of Sacsayhuamán, the artist neighborhood of San Blas, the bustling San Pedro market, and much more.
After our adventures in Cusco, we’ll step outside the urban areas to the more remote and spectacular scenery south of Cusco. As the first real test of our hiking skills, we’ll spend a day exploring the colorful layers of Vinicunca, otherwise known as Rainbow Mountain. The other-worldly beauty of these peaks is a highlight for many. You’ll also have a chance to walk Q’eswachaka, the last remaining Inca rope bridge (try not to think about the fact that it’s woven from grass 😉). This less-visited yet thrilling excursion will undoubtedly get your blood pumping!
Next, we’ll venture into the Sacred Valley to tour the ruins near Pisac, Urubamba, and Ollantaytambo. The complexity of Incan construction was truly remarkable, so we’ll spend valuable time learning from our expert guides the history and significance behind this unique part of the world. We’ll also share laughs and learn from locals while visiting a chocolate, honey, and pottery studio and have a chance to shop in local handicraft markets to practice our haggling skills.
Peru is best explored off the beaten path (not to mention off the tourist bus!). On this day, we’ll grab mountain bikes and have a relaxing ride along the dirt roads and trails of the Sacred Valley. Mountain biking allows us to get an up close and personal view of Peru’s rural people and villages. We’ll stop to enjoy a delicious meal along the river then have some downtime at our cozy Sacred Valley B&B at night.
Midway through our trip, you’ll likely be sick of all the spectacular, mind-blowing Andean scenery (ha!). So we’ll spend a little time on the water! We’ll take a scenic drive and visit Lake Piuray for some rest, relaxation (coca tea, anyone?), and quite a bit of fun. We’ll have access to paddleboards to explore the natural surroundings, and – if yoga’s your thing – there’s no better place for some stretching and meditation. To cap off our day, we’ll stop at the charming community of Chincero to watch a traditional weaving demonstration by local artisans.
At last, our time on trail begins! Rated as one of the best treks in the world by National Geographic, very few words can describe the utter awesomeness of the Salkantay Trek. Considered the best alternative to the overcrowded Inca Trail, Salkantay offers intrepid travelers the opportunity to explore a more untamed side of Peru. Over the course of four days, we’ll hike ~46 miles – reaching a maximum elevation of 15,090 feet at the breathtaking Salkantay Pass before descending to the waterfalls, cloud forests, and coffee farms near Machu Picchu. Salkantay is undoubtedly challenging and not for the faint of heart, yet we’ll work together and have help from our friendly chefs, guides, and pack horses. If you’re looking for a profound sense of self-achievement, camaraderie, and awe-inspiring scenery, look no further than the Salkantay Trek.
No trip to Peru would be complete without a visit to Machu Picchu! As the grand finale of the Salkantay Trek, we’ll spend a day exploring this iconic UNESCO World Heritage Site. We’ll aim to get ahead of the day-tripping tourists for a quieter and more personal view of this “City in the Clouds.” You’ll have time to hike to great heights (taking those Instagrammable photos you’ve been dying for) and explore nearby Aguas Calientes, where you can shop for souvenirs or relax in the local hot springs.
We’ll cap off our adventures in the Sacred Valley with a whitewater rafting trip on the Rio Urubamba. Depending on the time of year, we’ll tackle class II-IV rapids. Our professional guides make it safe and fun for all, and stunning views of the “sacred river” and surrounding cliffs punctuate another fantastic adventure.
In keeping with our philosophy that the most memorable adventures abroad are often unpolished and unscripted, we leave space at the end of your trip for adventures unknown. During this stage of the experience, guides often choose to take a backseat role to YOU and your newfound travel-savvy group. Planning typically begins during week one of the program, when participants receive our end-of-trip Adventure Framework. This includes a group daily budget, safety rules, and travel resources (e.g., available transportation options, contacts, etc.). We encourage creativity during this time and love surprises, especially off-the-beaten-path experiences! Our ultimate goal is to give room for the group to explore their unique interests and curiosities – and to challenge the group to think beyond the boundaries of an organized tour.
At the end of our journey, we’ll head back to Cusco for our final dinner and special closing activities. You’ll have a chance to do any last-minute shopping or sightseeing in Cusco before your transport to the airport. We’ll be sad to see you go, yet the end of one journey is simply the beginning of another. Whether you continue to another destination (Ecuador, anyone?) or head home from here, we hope you’ll fondly remember the Sacred Land of the Incas.
Your journey will begin and end at Cusco’s Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ). CUZ typically has a wide selection of airlines and flight times, as well as reasonable fares. As we welcome travelers from all over the world, our pricing does not include the cost of flights.
We accept arrivals and departures at any time on the scheduled start and end dates. However, when possible, we suggest timing your arrival by early afternoon to make the most out of that first day – our day to break the ice and see some of Cusco. Further details on arrival procedures are provided one week before the program. Typically, staff meet participants directly outside customs and immigration in the passenger pickup area.
Please ensure you have emailed a copy of your itinerary to email@example.com. If there are any changes to your anticipated arrival or departure time, inform our team immediately by emailing us or calling +1.720.340.1139.
Please see the dates and costs section for our current pricing. Our trip fees cover most major expenses while abroad, yet items considered personal expenses (such as airfare) are additional. To assist with your budgeting, please ensure you’ve reviewed the following.
- Experienced and professional guides
- Shared accommodations in hotels/hostels, B&Bs, and camping
- Ground transportation to/from group activities
- Group meals and drinking water
- Equipment and entrance fees for the adventure excursions
- All equipment and supplies needed for the volunteer projects
- Donations to our partner organizations
- Health/travel insurance (strongly recommended)
- Flight costs to/from Cusco (CUZ)
- Airport/airline taxes, baggage fees, flight upgrades, meals, etc.
- Passport, visa, vaccinations, etc.
- Any costs incurred due to medical needs/emergencies/evacuations
- Personal spending money for shopping, snacks, etc.
- Cell phone and internet usage
- Laundry expenses
Local time – Peru is in the Peru Time (PET) zone. To calculate the time difference between Peru and your area, we recommend timeanddate.com as it takes into account daylight savings rules and accepts present as well as future dates.
Currency – The official currency of Peru is the Sol (symbol: S/; code: PEN). For current currency conversion rates, we recommend visiting xe.com.
Weather – Cusco and the Sacred Valley tend to be busy year-round, though many consider June to mid-September as the best months for travel. For your convenience, we have compiled the following chart of key cities with the average ranges for highs (°F) / lows / rain days per month.
|Cusco||66-67° / 44-45° / 13-16||67-68° / 33-42° / 1-7||67-69° / 33-39° / 0-3||68-70° / 42-44° / 8-13|
|Urubamba||72-73° / 50-51° / 13-16||73-74° / 39-48° / 1-7||73-75° / 39-45° / 0-3||74-76° / 48-50° / 8-13|
|Aguas Calientes||58-59° / 47-48° / 20-22||57-58° / 43-46° / 11-20||56-58° / 41-44° / 11-20||58-59° / 46-48° / 21-22|
Dress code – Whatever you wear at home is likely equally acceptable in Peru. That said, if you want to look less like a tacky tourist and avoid unwanted attention, you should note that locals tend to dress more conservatively. We recommend you keep things simple, don’t show too much skin, and stick to classic combos (jeans/shorts and t-shirts, skirts and sweaters, etc.). It’s also important to dress for the weather, as swings in temperature, rain, etc. can catch even the most seasoned travelers off guard!
Language – Spanish is the dominant language in Peru. Quechua (the language of the Inca Empire) is still widely spoken as well, especially in the highlands. Note that English is not widely spoken in Peru. In major urban centers and areas that cater to tourists, you will encounter other English speakers. However, there will be times when you should be prepared to navigate with a friendly smile, some basic gestures, and whatever Spanish you may already know. While that may be intimidating for some, do not be shy or afraid! We encourage you to jump right in, as locals are very welcoming and friendly. You may find yourself picking up the basics very quickly.
Safety – Peru is generally considered to be safe for travelers. However, risk is inherent to travel, and there are always safety concerns regardless of where you go in the world. For a complete and thorough list of concerns and safety recommendations, please visit Peru’s “Safety and Security” section at travel.state.gov. Note that while violent crime is less common in Peru (especially for those who travel in a group), tourists are often the target of petty theft, pickpocketing, etc. However, if you exercise good judgment and common sense, you are likely to have an incident-free travel experience.
Food – Exploring all the unique foods and flavors of Peru can be positively delightful. Meat, rice, and potato dishes are a mainstay, in addition to regional specialties such as cuy (guinea pig). Your trip will include all major meals, so please be sure to inform our team if you have any dietary restrictions or allergies. We will forward this information along to our in-country partners.
Water – The tap water in Peru is not safe to drink. Do not drink tap water, even in major hotels, and try to avoid drinks with ice. You should drink only bottled water, which is widely available. Additionally, you’re safer only eating fruits that you can peel or salads and fruits washed with purified water.
Electrical outlets – Depending on the difference between your home country and Peru’s electricity systems, you may need to bring a travel plug adaptor (changes the plug/outlet type) and an electric converter (changes the voltage/frequency) for your electronics to work. Peru’s voltage/frequency is 220V/60Hz. Voltage/frequency in the U.S. is 120V/60Hz. Thus, if you are coming from the U.S., you will need to ensure your electronics can be charged at 220V/60Hz (i.e., “dual-voltage”) or bring along an electric converter and plug adapters (types A and C), such as you see here.
Cell phone – Many major cellular carriers have broad coverage overseas. Please check with your carrier for rates and coverage before travel, as many plans require you to activate international roaming before use. We will provide further guidance on connectivity post-enrollment.
Wi-Fi – You will find Wi-Fi in most cities and towns in Peru. Many cafes, restaurants, and hotels/hostels offer free Wi-Fi – though be prepared for sometimes painfully slow connections!
Laundry – Laundry services are available in many of the accommodations we use. Typically, you drop off a load at the front desk, pay by the pound, then receive your fresh and crisp clothing the next day. Very convenient! As such, we recommend packing light then doing your laundry every week or so.
BACK&PACK can not apply for passports or visas on your behalf, yet the information below should help guide you through the process. As always, contact our team if you have questions or run into any issues.
Travelers with U.S. passports – For the most up-to-date information, please visit Peru’s page at travel.state.gov. Travelers with U.S. passports do not need a visa for stays less than 183 days but must have 6+ months of validity on their passport after the entry date to Peru. If you need to apply for or renew your passport, please submit your application as soon as possible.
Travelers with non-U.S. passports – Please verify passport and visa requirements for your nationality by contacting your local Peruvian embassy or consulate. The websites embassypages.com and embassy-finder.com operate handy directories of embassies and consulates around the world. If you’re required to obtain a visa and need specific information for the application process, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to assist you.
Keeping your documents safe – Please be aware that passports are quite valuable abroad. Guard your important documents as you do your credit/debit cards, and keep these items in concealed locations. Additionally, we suggest you make copies of your important documents (passport, visa, etc.) before travel. Having these copies is very useful in the event of loss or theft. You can make photocopies or scan documents into a secure yet accessible computer file (a password-protected file stored in the cloud, for example). If photocopying, we suggest you make two copies of your documents. Leave one copy at home with a close friend or family member. Keep hold of the other copy while abroad, separate from the original.
BACK&PACK is not able to supply medical advice (we’re not doctors, after all!), yet you may use the steps below to guide your decision-making process regarding travel vaccinations.
- Go to the Travelers’ Health section for Peru on the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website.
- Read through the information carefully and consider which precautions you may want to take.
- Schedule an appointment with your physician or travel health professional. For assistance locating a travel clinic in your area, you may wish to try the Find A Clinic service on the CDC website. Please allow plenty of time before your trip to see your healthcare provider (CDC suggests 4-6 weeks). Let your provider know before your appointment that you are coming in for travel vaccinations. They might ask about the areas where you may visit. Our Peru itineraries typically include urban and rural areas in/near Cusco, Písac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Aguas Calientes. The Amazon basin and lowlands are not part of our itinerary.
Mosquito and other vector-borne illnesses – It’s important to note that protecting yourself from insect bites can significantly reduce your risk of vector-borne diseases (Zika, Malaria, Dengue, West Nile, etc.). On your packing list, we have included insect repellent with DEET along with long-sleeved shirts/long pants. We recommend you use these items during your trip when contact with mosquitos and other insects is possible (excursions in outdoor settings, etc.).
Below you will find a detailed list of our recommended items for Peru. Above all, remember you will be responsible for carrying your luggage from place to place. Do not skimp on essentials but know that you’ll likely feel every ounce of weight over time. Thus, the lighter you can pack, the better. As a general rule, if your pack is more than 30-35 pounds, you’ve overpacked. Strive for less! You will have the ability to do laundry every week or so (see the “Laundry” note on the “Country Info” tab).
- Main bag (35-70 liter capacity, depending on your packing habits) – We suggest a wilderness-style backpack for ease of use in various environments abroad. Wheeled luggage or duffel bags are acceptable but should be easy to carry over long stretches of rough terrain (cobblestone streets, stairs, etc.).
- Smaller bag for day trips, sightseeing, and weekend excursions
- Valid passport and visa (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of travel documents (see “Travel Docs” tab)
- Electronic or physical copy of flight documents/itinerary
- Debit/credit cards and cash (see “Money” note below)
- Insurance information
- Student ID or other identification (optional – student IDs can sometimes get you discounts abroad)
- Electronic or physical list of phone numbers, addresses for postcards, etc.
- Lightweight short-sleeved shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Long-sleeved shirts, casual dresses, etc.
- Lightweight pants or long skirts
- Nicer outfits for going out
- Warm pants
- Warm upper layers/sweaters/jackets
- Raincoat/outer shell
- Thermal underwear
- Warm hat
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Flip flops or sandals
- Sun hat or cap
- UV protected sunglasses
- Mesh laundry bag labeled with your name
- Travel plug adaptors and/or electric converter (see the “Electrical outlets” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Cell phone and charger
- Tablet or laptop (see “Valuables and electronics” note below)
- Headphones (optional)
- Camera (optional)
- eReader (optional)
- Locks for luggage (optional)
- Journal (optional)
- Water bottle (see the “Water” note on the “Country Info” tab)
- Quick-dry towel and washcloth
- Soap or body wash (see “Eco-friendly products” note below)
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
- Lip balm
- Eye care supplies (glasses, contact lenses, etc.) and spares
- Hairbrush or comb
- Any necessary razors, trimmers, and shaving cream
- Nail clippers and tweezers
- Medications (see “Medications” note below)
- Personal first aid kit (see “First Aid” note below)
- Waterproof sunscreen (SPF 30+)
- Small bottle of insect repellent with DEET (25-30% concentration)
- Earplugs and/or sleep mask (optional)
- Any personal items you need not on this list (feminine hygiene products, etc.)
Valuables and electronics – Note that BACK&PACK is not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items. You are free to bring a tablet, laptop, camera, jewelry, watch, etc. – but if you are concerned about losing/damaging an item, then it’s best to leave it at home.
Eco-friendly products – For your toiletries, please consider traveling with reputable “green” brands to help reduce environmental impacts. For soap/body wash, we’re fans of Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap, for example.
First Aid – We recommend that all travelers come with a basic first aid kit for personal use. Supplies may include Band-Aids, antiseptic cream, pain/fever medication, cold medicine, antidiarrheals, mild laxatives, Pepto Bismol, anti-itch cream, decongestants, cough drops, etc. While you can purchase premade first aid kits, these products tend to be bulky and don’t always contain sufficient quantities of certain items. Alternatively, you can simply list what you like to have on hand when you get a cold, the flu, upset stomach, bug bites, etc. Purchase necessary items (in sufficient quantities!) at your local pharmacy, then pack everything together in a ziplock bag.
Medications – You are responsible for the proper administration of any prescription and over-the-counter medications. Note, some prescription medications are difficult to find in pharmacies abroad. Please consider taking precautions to reduce the risk of loss. For your flights, ensure prescription medications are in your carry-on bag, NOT checked baggage. They should be clearly labeled in their original packaging/with instructions, as required by the airlines. Then when in Peru, you may wish to err on the side of caution by securing prescription medications in a bag with luggage locks. Luggage locks can be purchased at your local Walmart, Target, travel store, etc.
Money – Peru is a largely cash-based society. As such, we recommend traveling with a few days’ worth of cash from your home country, then converting upon arrival in Peru. Note that money changers in Peru are notoriously picky. All cash you bring must be in excellent condition – without tears or blemishes (even tiny ones!) – as many vendors and exchange houses abroad will not accept “damaged” bills.
We also recommend traveling with a debit/ATM (for additional cash withdrawals) and a credit card (kept in separate, concealed locations). Each offers distinct advantages abroad, plus having two cards is very useful in the event of loss, theft, or denial of one by a particular vendor.
Visa is the most widely accepted card in Peru. While not as common, some establishments will accept MasterCard as well. Your cards will need chip technology and a 4-digit PIN. If you have questions or concerns regarding your debit/credit cards, contact your card provider.
Be aware that some cards charge significant fees while traveling (e.g., 2-3% foreign transaction fees), so please budget for your card’s total cost of use. It is also critical to inform your debit/credit card providers of your international travel plans before departure to avoid suspension of your account (i.e., fraud protection).
Current Ways To Save
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